SOFT IN THE HEAD

Suzanna scowled sleepily at the lopped-off branches that formed the wall of the hillside lean-to and burrowed deeper into the bedding. At least there’s a bear skin to add some warmth, she thought irritably. It was too cold to get up, and if Gerald thought she was going to actually live in this God-forsaken place, he wasn’t thinking clearly.

“Wife?” he asked from the open side of the shelter.

Suzanna burrowed deeper, covering her head.

Gerald chuckled and came to kneel beside her. “I have a fire going,” he said. “I’ve toasted some bread and am heating water for tea.”

Suzanna sighed and reluctantly uncovered her head. “All right,” she said.

“There’s a herd of elk on the other side of the valley,” he said. “I thought I’d try for one after breakfast. We could use the meat. Do you want to come with me?”

“I’m not staying here by myself.” She sat up. “Not until you’ve built me a cabin.”

He leaned in to kiss her forehead. “I love you,” he said.

“And I you.” She shook her head. “Though I still think you’re soft in the head. This valley is so isolated and cold. How does anything grow up here?”

He grinned, stood, and went out. “The water’s hot!” he called from the fireside.

Moreno Valley Sketches II

A NEW LIFE

She wasn’t sure what she had been expecting, but it wasn’t this. Her heart sank as she looked down at the low mud-colored town. The clouds were low and threatening.

“Mama?”

She turned, gathering her long calico skirts in one hand and reaching for him with the other.

“Is that it?”

She nodded. They stood together, looking down. The sky grumbled again and she closed her eyes. How was she going to do this, just her and this fragile boy?

“Look!”

She opened her eyes and followed his pointing arm. The clouds had parted above the town and a broad beam of light now danced on the rooftops, turning the walls golden.

She squeezed his hand and they smiled at each other. “Yes, this is it,” she said. “Our new life.”

Copyright © 2013 Loretta Miles Tollefson

MAXWELL BEFORE THE BAR, 3 of 3

“Things are changing, Mr. Maxwell.” Judge Joseph Palen set his whisky glass on the saloon table and looked around the room. “In another year or so, these ragged placer miners will be replaced by businessmen with laborers to do the rough work.”

Maxwell nodded, following his gaze. “And many of these men will be laborers, instead of independent men with claims of their own.”

“Claims so poorly worked they bring in barely enough to keep body and soul together.” Palen flicked a speck of dust from the sleeve of his dark broadcloth suit.

“That’s all that matters, I suppose.” Maxwell grimaced. “Efficiency.”

“It’s a large territory, and its resources are going to waste.”

“So they tell me,” Maxwell said. He shook his head, put his glass on the table, and reached for his battered black hat. “I’ve been here a long time, Mr. Palen, and I happen to like Nuevo Mexico’s lack of efficiency. So do most of the men in this room, I expect.” He stood, towering over the table. “Good day to you, Judge.” A mischievous smile flashed across his face. “And good luck.”

Moreno Valley Sketches II

MAXWELL BEFORE THE BAR, 2 of 3

“You have an interest in a number of cases before this court,” Judge Palen said sharply.

Lucien Maxwell nodded and tilted his head toward the old lawyer beside him. “Mr. Wheaton is my designated attorney.” He raised an eyebrow. “I believe that releases me from the need to be present.” He adjusted his right foot higher on his left knee.

“You have been indicted on a serious charge.” Palen leaned forward. “That indictment requires your attendance.”

“The Probate Court issue?” Maxwell lifted a shoulder. “We have an excellent probate court clerk. As you’ll see from his records, there was no need to hold formal court.”

Palen’s lips thinned. “You committed to appearing on the first day of this session in regard to the indictment against you. It is now the fourth day.”

“I was unexpectedly detained.”

Palen stared at him for a long moment, then turned to the court clerk. “Let the record show that Mr. Maxwell has appeared and apologized for his failure to appear, and that we are satisfied no contempt was intended.”

Maxwell’s jaw tightened, then he nodded slightly and readjusted his right foot on his knee.

Moreno Valley Sketches II

MAXWELL BEFORE THE BAR, 1 of 3

Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell, richest man in northern New Mexico Territory, sat on one of the mismatched chairs in Elizabethtown’s makeshift Colfax County courtroom and studied the man sitting behind the Judge’s table. He’d sat at such tables himself, though he doubted he’d ever looked so uncomfortable. Joseph Palen looked out of place here in this rough mining town and angry that it had the audacity to call itself a county seat. Apparently disapproved of Nuevo Mexico, too, for that matter.

Maxwell felt the impulse to laugh, but instead lifted his right foot to his left knee and watched the crowd gather. Most of the men nodded to him politely, touching their foreheads in a kind of salute, and he nodded back. They were good people, he mused. Knew what they wanted, had no pretense about them.

Beside him, the old attorney Wheaton muttered, “Here we go,” and Judge Palen gaveled the room to attention.

“Apparently, Mr. Maxwell has deigned to honor us with his presence,” Palen said, glaring at Lucien.

Maxwell resisted the impulse to straighten his spine and put both feet on the floor. “I believe you asked to see me,” he said coolly.

Moreno Valley Sketches II

JUST A MAN

“I seen him! I seen him!” The boy stopped, breathless, just inside the kitchen door.

“You mean you saw him.” His mother shook her head at him as she lifted the lid from the Dutch oven in the fireplace to check the biscuits. She smiled. “Who did you see?”

“Kit Carson! He was on the other side of the street, going into the Governor’s house.”

She nodded. “I heard this morning that he was back. What is he like?”

His shoulders sagged. “He didn’t look anything like the pictures in the book Grandpa gave me when we left Kansas City.”

“That was just a story,” she pointed out. She turned to stir the great pot of venison stew.

“I know,” he said. “But he wasn’t what I expected at all. He’s just a man.”

Copyright © 2013 Loretta Miles Tollefson

INHERITANCE

In the middle of the night, the baby began wailing frantically.

“¡A redo vaya! Good heavens!” Ramona said, sitting up in bed. As she slipped from the blankets, Carlos grunted but didn’t open his eyes. Ramona paused to look down at him, and shook her head. How a man could sleep through that much crying was beyond her comprehension. He must be very tired from the digging he did for the Baldy Mountain miners every day.

As she crossed the room to the baby, she rubbed her ears with her fingers. The Spring wind was howling, which always made them uncomfortable.

She lifted Carlito from his blankets and opened her nightdress. He began suckling eagerly, whimpering a little as he did so, and rubbing his free hand against the side of his head.

So his ears were uncomfortable, too. She looked down at him as she walked the floor, and sighed. He had a lifetime of discomfort before him and there was nothing she could do about it.

Moreno Valley Sketches II